Friday, October 21, 2011

A Learning Experience

I know I haven't blogged in almost two weeks, but I have a decent reason.  I fell of Bear about 10 days ago.  Leading up to the fall the ride was going to be very blogable, but I ended up landing on my wrist, and typing has not been the first thing I want to do.  Plus I have to type quite a bit while at work.

As far as falls go, it wasn't a bad one.  We were out riding in the big pasture and having a great time working on serpentines and getting some nice trots, and then we moved into a very smooth lope.  I had planned on getting back to working on the lope more regularly.  We got going in a really nice circle and he was relaxed and back on his haunches.  Robin was a little surprised at how good we looked. 

But it was a little breezy and cooler than the previous rides (which were downright hot for horses putting on winter coats), so Bear was feeling good.  When we would hit the part of the loop that was slightly uphill and into the wind he would start charging ahead.  It wasn't bad at first, but with each circle it got a little bit worse.  Finally I had to get him to turn rather sharply so we wouldn't hit the fence.  He was a little braced up and excited to be running, and then his inside hind leg slipped.

Before I knew it Bear's back and butt were disappearing underneath me.  He regained his balance and went right and I went left, landing first on my wrist and then on my hip.  Like I said, it was not a hard fall as all our momentum had been halted by his slip, and I was on soft grass.  But I fell on the same wrist I hurt in a bike crash last summer.  Now I'm icing and wearing a brace and trying to get the tendons to heal.  They are coming along slowly.

This is now my fifth fall of Bear, and it is the first one I really learned something from.  I have been working a lot on controlling the hind and forequarters independently of one another, yet I didn't see that I could have pushed Bear into a nice bend by demanding his hind end to move out along with a bend in the neck.  Also, I let him charge hard onto his front end, rather than keep him back on his haunches.  This is something I understood in principle, but I couldn't always feel it.

I've spent quite a few days resting, and I also had a few quiet and mostly uneventful rides with the brace on.  Today, though, was a great ride (still with the brace on).  The sun was shining, the wind was calm, and the horses were very attentive.  We rode out on the strip, which we haven't done since maybe July.  Bear was somewhat sluggish in terms of pace (probably due to the sun and the fact that his winter coat is in full on puff mode), but he was extremely responsive to my leg cues.

We worked on our short serpentines, and for the first time I could feel him really giving. I was able to concentrate on asking for the turns with minimal cues from the rein and focusing on my legs at the knee and thigh rather than boot heel and calf. We've been watching an excellent colt starting video by Ray Hunt and he is always saying to start by asking your horse to do something with the least amount of pressure you think they could possibly respond to.  With this in mind we then moved to walking some very consistent figure-eights with almost all my cues coming from my legs.  He was great, and it really felt wonderful.

The second half of the ride we focused on the trot and getting a nice bend.  I knew we often had problems in the trot, but until the fall I couldn't pinpoint what they were.  Now I know he doesn't always stay back on his haunches, and he has a tendency to drop his shoulder in the turns and cut really sharply.  This is not a huge deal when riding at the trot, but clearly it is a big problem at faster speeds.

So today I used my legs to get him into a nice circle with maybe a 15 foot radius or so.  When he would try to charge forward or drop his shoulder I just lifted the reins in a light way to encourage him to stay back.  He would sometimes drop that trot at this point, but I was quick enough to engage my legs that after a few minutes he started to get it.

We worked on this off and on for about half an hour.  We spent much more time going right than left as that is the bad direction (either his or mine or both, I haven't quite figured it out).  In the end he was giving me a beautiful and balanced trot with a lot of bend.  Robin said he had that pleased and willing Bear expression he gets when he understands and likes his job.  We ended on that note and let them graze in the grass for a few minutes.  I can't wait to keep working on this and eventually do the same exercises at the lope.  I should probably wait for my wrist to be totally healed first.

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